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How to Become a Dental Assistant in North Carolina

Becoming a dental assistant is a great way to enjoy a healthcare career without a four-year degree. With two years of school or less or with on-the-job training, you can begin working in a dental office in North Carolina. Dental assistant training programs are offered at community colleges, technical institutes, and private career schools throughout the state.

A dental assistant plays an essential role in dental care. They are responsible for assisting dentists and dental hygienists, keeping the office running smoothly by performing clerical and administrative tasks, and keeping patients safe.

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North Carolina recognizes two levels of qualified dental assistants but does not license or register these professionals. It is up to the supervising dentist to make sure their assistants meet the requirements to perform specific duties.

What Can Dental Assistants Do in North Carolina?

North Carolina recognizes three levels of dental assistants:

  1. Dental assistant I (DA I)
  2. Dental assistant II in training (DA II in training)
  3. Dental assistant II (DA II)

Dental assistants at any level can perform the following tasks, depending on what the supervising dentist needs:

  • Check in patients and prepare them for appointments
  • Prep the exam room for procedures, cleanings, or exams
  • Clean and sterilize equipment and instruments
  • Assist dentists during procedures by handing tools or operating equipment
  • Educate patients on oral hygiene and the dentists’ instructions
  • Maintain patient records
  • Answer the phone and schedule patients
  • Performing minor procedures under supervision and after receiving the proper training

At the first level, dental assistants can perform specific procedures, like taking vital signs, applying topical fluoride, and using topical anesthetics.

At the level of DA II in training and DA II, dental assistants can do more. A few examples include removing sutures, flushing root canals, fitting orthodontic bands, and taking impressions.

D.A.s at any level can monitor patients under nitrous oxide if they have completed a seven-hour course approved by the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners. If the D.A must use radiography equipment and perform X-rays, they must undergo a process. It includes being qualified at the DA II level, being a Certified Dental Assistant through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), have completed a dental assistant program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) or have passed a board-approved radiological equivalency exam.

How to Become a Dental Assistant II in North Carolina

You can become a DA I in North Carolina with no formal training or education, but your scope of duties will be limited. To become a DA II, you must follow one of the following three paths:

  1. Job Training. You can become a qualified DA II through on-the-job training with a licensed dentist. This means working as a DA II in training for at least two of the previous five years and with a minimum of 3,000 hours. You must also complete approved courses in dental office emergencies and sterilization and infection control during that time.
  2. Academic Program. Another option is to complete a CODA-accredited dental assistant program or one year of an accredited dental hygiene program.
  3. Certified Dental Assistant. If you hold the C.D.A. credential from DANB, you automatically qualify as a DA II in North Carolina.

With any pathway, you must also be certified in C.P.R. To be able to perform coronal polishing, you must have completed a course in it or received seven hours of instruction from a dentist or hygienist.

Why Choose Dental Assistant School?

North Carolina allows for several options to become a dental assistant. Dental assistant school is not required, but there are many good reasons to choose this pathway:

  • An academic program prepares you to begin working right away, with no or minimal on-the-job training.
  • Dentists often prefer to hire dental assistants with a certificate or degree.
  • You can expect to earn a higher salary having completed an education program.
  • With a degree or certificate from an approved program, you are allowed to perform more duties and do more hands-on work with patients.
  • Many programs include the required courses that will allow you to perform X-rays, supervise patients under nitrous oxide, and perform coronal polishing.
  • If you want to become a C.D.A., it helps to have completed an academic program approved by CODA.
  • A degree or certificate can lead you to more career opportunities. For instance, many schools allow you to apply for dental assisting courses and credits to a degree in dental hygiene.

CODA-Accredited Dental Assistant Schools in North Carolina

North Carolina has several dental assistant schools with accredited dental assistant programs: 

Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College

Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College
  • Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, Asheville
  • Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte
  • Fayetteville Community College, Fayetteville
  • Wayne Community College, Goldsboro
  • Alamance Community College, Graham
  • Coastal Carolina Community College, Jacksonville
  • Guilford Technical Community College, Jamestown
  • Western Piedmont Community College, Morganton
  • Wake Technical Community College, Raleigh
  • Miller-Motte College, Raleigh and Wilmington
  • Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Salisbury
  • Central Carolina Community College, Sanford
  • Davidson-Davie Community College, Thomasville
  • Montgomery Community College, Troy
  • Wilkes Community College, Wilkesboro
  • Cape Fear Community College, Wilmington
  • Forsyth Technical Community College, Winston-Salem
  • Pitt Community College, Winterville

Penn Foster offers an online program in dental assisting that you can complete remotely and at your own pace.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Dental Assistant?

The time it takes to become a North Carolina dental assistant depends on the path you take. You can become a DA I or DA II in training immediately. To become a DA II through training takes two years to qualify as a DA II.

If you start with an academic program, it may take less time to become a DA II. Most programs in North Carolina are one-year diploma programs. If you complete one on a full-time basis, you could begin working as a DA II in a year or less.

What Will I Learn in a Dental Assisting Program?

Accredited dental assistant programs must meet the standards set by CODA, which means they offer similar courses. You may see some differences from one school to the next, but in general, classes include:

  • Basic anatomy and physiology
  • Orofacial anatomy
  • Preclinical procedures
  • Infection and hazard control
  • Dental materials
  • Dental sciences
  • Practice management
  • Dental radiography
  • Clinical practice
  • Dental health education

Programs require that students complete lab work and clinical experience hours, so you will get hands-on practice before graduating. Most programs prepare their graduates to take and pass the DANB CDA exam.

Where Do Dental Assistants Work in North Carolina

Most dental assistants work in private dental practices. These are the offices that most people go to for dental care. Wherever dentists work in the state, you should be able to find job opportunities.

Dental offices are not the only places where dental assistants work, however. They are also hired by physician offices, hospitals, residential facilities like nursing homes, community clinics, universities and dental schools, and government agencies.

With completing an academic program, you may also be able to work in a dental lab or choose between administrative or clinical dental assisting. You can also work toward a degree in dental hygiene to become a licensed hygienist.

What is the Career Outlook for Dental Assistants?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (B.L.S.), careers for dental assistants are on the rise across the country. Growth in these jobs is faster than average job growth, which means there will be many opportunities for qualified dental assistants. The B.L.S. projects 11% growth from 2020 to 2030.

According to Projections Central, North Carolina expects even more robust growth for this occupation. The state reports a 20.8 percent growth in careers for dental assistants between 2018 and 2028. This equates to nearly 200 more positions added each year during that time.

North Carolina recognizes dental assisting as one of the state’s 5-star jobs. This is a list of occupations with the most significant growth, the most projected job openings, and good wages.

What Are Typical Salaries for Dental Assistants?

The B.L.S. reports that dental assistants in May 2020 earned a median salary of $41,180. The median hourly wage was $19.80. The lowest earners in the field made $28,940, and the highest-paid made more than $58,390. Salary differences depend on qualifications and credentials, employer, geographical area, and years of experience. According to the B.L.S., dental assistants working for the government have the highest salaries.

North Carolina dental assistants have comparable salaries to the national statistics. The median annual wage in the state is $41,660, while the median hourly rate is $20.03. Those earning in the top 10% in the state make more than $54,000 per year and $26 per hour.

Finding a Dental Assistant Job in North Carolina

You should be able to find a job in any area of the state. Dentists are needed everywhere, from big cities to rural areas. Expect to find the most opportunities in major population centers, including CharlotteRaleighGreensboroDurhamWinston-Salem, and Fayetteville.

To give you an idea of the possibilities throughout the state, here are some recent job listings from Indeed.com:

  • Dental assistant, Granville-Vance Public Health-GVPH, Oxford, $33,542 to $40,868 per year
  • Dental assistant, Oak Ridge Dental Arts, Statesville, $19 to $25 per hour
  • Full-time dental assistant, Ritter Endodontics, $20 to $24 per hour
  • Dental assistant II, Joseph R. Conard, D.D.S., P.A., Waynesville, $25 to $33 per hour
  • Surgical dental assistant, Tar Heel Periodontics and Implant Dentistry, Wake Forest, $22 to $25 per hour
  • Dental assistant, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, $33,318 to $38,718 per year
  • Dental assistant I, Challenger Family Dental, Clayton, $14 to $18 per hour

Working as a dental assistant can be a rewarding career that also offers good job security and a livable wage. If you love working with people and are interested in healthcare and patient care, consider working toward becoming a North Carolina dental assistant.


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